Tag Archives: worship

Sermon: Jesus saved a seat

This was my Maundy Thursday sermon this year.  It was largely inspired by an insight I received while watching Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World DVD study.  In it, he asserts that Jesus and Judas must have been sitting next to each other at the last supper.  As the story is told, it was Judas that was seated at a position of honor, even as he was the one that was to betray Jesus.  Knowing Judas’s heart, what did Jesus do? He broke bread with him.  This was an incredible act of grace, and forms the heart of this sermon.

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Longest Night: For those that mourn at Christmas

This is a liturgy I wrote for a service I have called either a “Blue Christmas” service or a “Longest Night” service.  Where I am, the longest night of 2012 will begin at 4:35 on Friday, December 21.  If you are a worship leader, I suggest you start this service half an hour before sunset.  Send out letters now to all families that have had funerals in the last year, and also to local hospital chaplains.  I believe this is a beautiful way to make space for those that mourn at Christmas. You have permission to use as much or as little of this as you wish.  I’d appreciate a small credit somewhere in the bulletin.  If you plan on using it, I’d love it if you told me in the comments section.

Set in a prominent place in the sanctuary should be vase with water and dead, gray sticks coming out of it.  Each person, as they enter, shall be given a blue or purple carnation or rose.  These probably need to be ordered ahead of time, as most florists do not have them on hand.  Placed around the vase may be votive candles as well as the bread and cup for Communion.

The candles for the Advent wreath should be lit before the service.  If this service is held on the Longest Night, the fourth Advent candle – the candle of love has probably been lit.  Later in the service, each person will be invited to take the flame from the candle of love – which cannot be extinguished by death- and light a votive for the person/persons they mourn.  They then place a blue carnation in the vase amongst the dead sticks.  After all have placed in the vase, it becomes quite a beautiful winter arrangement.  This arrangement can be left in an inconspicuous place in the sanctuary for the Christmas Eve celebration.

Music can be used in this service, but as an undertone to set the mood.  If you have a musician available, then they can play calming music at the beginning of the service, and possibly some recognizable hymns (not Christmas carols) during Communion.  One song that is suggested can be played as a CD, but permission from the artist must still be granted.   I do not have the right to grant usage rights, it is merely a suggestion because I think it is a beautiful song.

Words of Welcome

The Advent season is one of wonder.  For so many it is a time of hopeful anticipation.  It is a season of promise.  The longer nights and the gray clouds seem to provide the perfect background for the lights and the tinsel.  The decorations are everywhere we turn.  For so many, this is a time of hopeful anticipation.  But for many of us, especially those of us gathered here, Christmas is a harsh reminder of life that once was.  So we gather not so much in hopeful anticipation, but in the cloud of despair.   While so many are ready to sing “Joy to the World,” we gather as those that mourn.   We gather now to carve out a time of quiet reflection.  We gather to shed tears if they come, to hold hands if they are available, and to know that we are not alone.  Whether this is the first Christmas without someone you love, or if you seem to be hurting from loss for as long as you remember, We gather to be reminded that it is okay to mourn, even at Christmas.

Prayer for those that mourn at Christmas

In this season of anticipation, we seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  We ask for your blessing this night upon those that mourn, for the pain at Christmas seems sharper.  We remember the words of Jesus, who promised comfort to those that mourn.  All around us are reminders of the joy that the world tells us we are supposed to be feeling.  Forgive us, O God, for not joining in the celebration with our whole hearts.  Guide us now, O Holy One, that we may move in still small steps from mourning to comfort.  Help us to find healing in the midst of the pain, and order in the midst of chaos.  Lighten our burden.  Give us rest.  Amen

Song – “Come to Me,” by Christopher Grundy (or another song)

Words of Grace

The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to the faithful.  For the Lord knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon the faithful, and the righteousness of the Lord to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103: 8, 13-14, 17-18)

Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Version)

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke, and learn from me.  I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

John 14:1-4, 16-20, 25-27  (Common English Version)

“Don’t be troubled.  Trust in God. Trust also in me.  My father’s house has room to spare.  If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?  When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  You know the way to the place I’m going…

I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion who will be with you forever.  This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him.  You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.  I won’t leave you as orphans.  I will come to you.  Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.  Because I live, you will live too.  On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you…

I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  I give to you not as the world gives.  Don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Words of Reflection (From “Longest Night” from the blog http://fatpastor.me)

On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”

Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.

The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.

My mother died at this time of the year.  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.

For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband.  He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents.  He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.

The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.

The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.

Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposed to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?

Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen every day that God did not plan. If it this were not so, then why would Jesus ask us to pray for God’s will to be done? I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.

The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.

When we leave this place, it will be into the longest night of the year.  Take this time, and claim it, but do not linger here.  Know that tomorrow the night will be shorter.  Know that soon, the light of God will break through.  Know that on Christmas, God broke through the chaos.  Know that on Christmas, God came to life so that we may have life abundant and life eternal.

We gather here today to acknowledge that our pain is real.  We acknowledge that death has its place in the world, but it is not in a place of triumph.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Act of Remembrance and Communion

We gather in this place with signs all around.  The Advent wreath has been lit, with the lights of hope, peace, joy, and love already lit as we prepare the way of the coming of Jesus.  If, as the Bible says, God is love, and God is eternal, then love is eternal as well.  Tonight, we are reminded that nothing can extinguish the candle of love.  The love that God has for us is steadfast and endures forever.  The love that we have for those we mourn cannot be extinguished by death.

In front of us are sticks.  This collection of dead sticks is here as a reminder that we are always surrounded by death.  The cycle of life to death is in all of creation.  When you entered, you were given a blue carnation.  This carnation is a sign of those for whom you mourn.  Blue is a traditional color for sadness.  It is also a traditional color for the Advent season.  These carnations remind us that even as we prepare for Christ’s coming, there is room for the human reality of sadness.

Also in front of us are the bread and the cup.  These are the elements of our Lord’s Last Supper.  It was a supper he shared with his disciples when he knew that his life on earth was coming to an end.  The bread, which is for us the body of Christ, is broken.  It reminds us of our human frailty, and of our unity as the Body of Christ.  The cup, which is for us the blood of Christ, is shed.  It reminds us of the Christ’s death on a cross, and of the forgiveness that is offered to all.

On this, the longest night of the year, we are reminded of just how dark the world can be.  Yet it was into this dark world that Christ was born.  It was in the midst of death and destruction that a child came so that we may have life.  We gather at Christ’s table in remembrance of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We remember that Jesus walked with us as the Word of God made flesh.

He healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the afflicted, comforted the mourning, worked for justice, and wept for his friends.  He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and calls all people to enter with rejoicing.  He came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, and he invites us all into life eternal.    By the baptism of his love, compassion, suffering, death, and resurrection Christ gave birth to his Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.

When Jesus gathered with his disciples, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

When the supper was over Jesus took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And so, in remembrance of these mighty acts of Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and grape.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood. By your spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, one with the great communion of saints, one with the great cloud of witnesses, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we all feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours now and forever, and so with the confidence of children we pray:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen”

Come now to the table of Christ, for all things are ready.  After you receive the bread and the grape juice, please pick up a votive candle and light it from the candle of Love.  You may also then place your carnation into the vase.

Blessing and Sending Forth

This arrangement, which was once barren and gray, was only a reminder of death.  Now it is something beautiful.  It is a reminder that God take all things and make them new.  Death is a part of our human experience.  It was a part of Jesus’s human experience.  But death is never the final chapter.  The despair of death may last, but we are never called to linger on it.  Go now into the night knowing that you need not go alone.  Go now into the night knowing that the dawn is coming.  Go now into the night knowing that love endures forever.  Go now into the night knowing that the Christ child will come.  Go now, and may the peace of Jesus Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you.  Amen.

Other Advent worship resources from the General Board of Discipleship 

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Maundy Thursday Liturgy

Maundy Thursday.pngBelow is suited for a sanctuary or chapel.

Maundy Thursday Pot-Luck Liturgy is meant to be shared around food.

Maundy Thursday

Liturgist:     Jesus spent his life teaching us the meaning of love.  Through word and deed Jesus showed us how to love God and to love one another.  He fed the hungry.  He healed the sick.  He invited the women and the children and the tax collectors and the sinners to come to his table.  He broke bread with the least and the lost and shared the cup of redemption with them all.  He crossed boundaries of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, and class.  He challenged religious authority, and he scoffed at pomposity and self-absorbed grandeur.  He called out the hypocrites.  He admonished the scribes and the Pharisees for their hardened hearts.  He brought a simple message: Love God, love yourself, and love one another.

All:       We gather in the name of Jesus and remember the way that he showed us.  We gather to remember not just his death, but his life.

UM Hymnal #174 – His Name is Wonderful

Liturgist:     The way of Jesus goes through the cross, but we are not there yet.  It is close.  We can see its shadow.  We can feel the cold, dark, night. We know that the enemies of God are conspiring.  They have had enough of him.  He threatens their comfort.  He threatens their way of life.  He threatens their power.  They will come for him.  First though, we will gather.  We gather with Jesus and his closest friends.  We gather with those that called him teacher, Rabbi, friend.  We gather for the Passover meal, to remember that God saved the people from slavery.  God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

All:       God saved the Israelites at Passover, and revealed that it is God who reigns, not the Pharaoh.  Our God saved once.  God saves forevermore.

UM Hymnal #448 – Go Down, Moses

Liturgist:     Even as they were sharing this sacred meal together, the disciples were not of one heart.  Jesus knew that he was asking much from these men, and he knew that they would fail him.  Judas had already agreed to betray Jesus to the religious authorities.  Was he angry at some slight?  Was he disappointed that Jesus would not raise an army against the Romans? Was he upset with the value of the oil that the woman “wasted” when she anointed Jesus?  We will never know Judas’ heart, but Jesus knew that he would be betrayed.  And did Jesus do with the man that would betray him?  He broke bread with him. All of the disciples were deeply saddened, and they asked:

All:     I would never betray you, Lord.  It’s not me, is it?

Leader One:      On the night in which Jesus was betrayed by his friend, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “This is my body, which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Leader Two:    When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.”

Leader One:      And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:       Christ has died. Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Leader One:    Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and the cup.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood.  By your Holy Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father now and forever.

Communion in silence

Liturgist:     When the holy meal had been shared, the disciples began to argue over which one would be the greatest.  Even here, at the end of their time together, they did not seem to understand what Jesus had been teaching them all along.  He reminded them that to be great in the Kingdom of God meant to serve.  After Jesus’ talk of betrayal, the disciples’ argument, and Jesus’ rebuke of them, the disciples seemed to be growing anxious. Peter proclaimed:

All:       “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Liturgist:     And Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you have denied three times that you know me.”

The Faith We Sing, Hymn #2112 – Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley

Liturgist:     Afterwards, Jesus led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He asked them to pray for him, for he wanted to be alone.  There, Jesus prayed.  He asked his friends to keep watch, but they kept falling asleep.  He prayed for another way out.  He prayed in anguish.  He prayed as a man who could feel pain, who would be hurt by betrayal, who would be scarred by the scourge, and would bleed when nails were driven into his arms and legs.  He prayed as a man who knew that if he followed God’s will, he would be charged, convicted, mocked, humiliated, abandoned, and nailed to a cross.  Knowing all of this full well he prayed, “Not my will, but yours.”  Then he stood up for all that he had lived for.  When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come to into the time of trial”

All:       Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi” and kissed him.  Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.

UM Hymnal #290 – Go to Dark Gethsemane (verses 1-3 only)

Liturgist:     There was a brief skirmish at the arrest, but his disciples quickly scattered.  Peter, who had only hours before promised to go with Jesus to prison, even death, followed from a distance.  During the trial, Peter remained hidden in the shadows.  First a servant girl saw him and said, “This man was also with him.”

All:       “Woman, I do not know him.”

Liturgist:     A little later someone else, on seeing him said, “You also are one of them.”

All:       “Man, I am not.”

Liturgist:     Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man was with him; for he is a Galilean.”

All:       “I do not know what you are talking about.  I do not know Jesus.”

Liturgist:     At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  The Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him, and he wept bitterly.

UM Hymnal #288 – Were You There

Stripping of the table (All of the items that adorn the Lord’s table, and all of the liturgical banners are removed in silence)

There will be no sending forth or postlude.  People are asked to leave in reflective silence, and return for Good Friday service and Easter Sunday service.

Good Friday Stations of the Gospel through Luke

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Liturgy for College Students

Pastor:        As you go back to college, we pray a special blessing upon you.

All:             We have enjoyed your presence with us this summer.  Your youth and your faith give us hope for a better future.

Pastor:        We call now upon the Holy Spirit to raise you up and keep you strong, safe, and secure.

All:             We pray for your safety and for your growth.  We thank God for your gifts and for this wonderful time of adventure and excitement in your lives.

Pastor:        We seek the Holy Spirit to keep your parents confident and at peace.

All:             We pray for your parents and families, for we know there is no greater risk than to allow children to grow.  We will do our best to support them with our presence and our prayers.

Pastor:        All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen.

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I just want to say ‘thank you, thank you my Lord.’

It was hot.  We were sweaty.  I was dirty and sore and tired.  And then we started to sing.  We took each other by the hand and made a circle, and we sang:

“I just want to say thank you, thank you my Lord.

I just want to say thank you, thank you my Lord.

For your blessings we say thank you, thank you my Lord.

I just want to say thank you, thank you my Lord.”

Inside New Hope UMC

The floor of New Hope United Methodist Church was not yet finished, but it was closer than it was at the beginning of the day.  We had spent the morning and early afternoon working hard.  First we hauled forty wheel barrows  of sand into the church.  Then carried twenty 110 pound bags of cement into the church.  After dumping the cement onto the sand, we mixed it up with spades.  The Liberian men that were there knew what they were doing.  We learned by watching, and pitched in.  I feared that we might be slowing them down – or worse – taking away work that they wouldn’t get paid for.  But their smiles and gestures of help allayed my fears.

Working together at New Hope UMC

The process was long and slow.  Others in our group affixed wires to the undergrid.  Others spread sand on the dirt floor, providing even ground on which to pour the cement.  Then we hauled in 30 wheel barrows of rock and dumped them on the huge pile of sand-cement mixture.  Then came the water, and more mixing.  When the cement was finally mixed and wet, it was put into a wheel barrow and dumped on the floor, where skilled masons spread it out and made it level.

I love that the sign in Monrovia pointing to the United Methodist Church looks just like the one in Chenoa.

New Hope United Methodist Church sits on a hill on the outskirts of Monrovia.  It is the biggest building in the little neighborhood.  Inside there was a sign that read “2011-Our year of divine breakthrough.”  The people of New Hope used to worship at homes, and then in a structure of sticks holding up a tin roof.  The new New Hope UMC is a structure of cinderblocks with a vaulted ceiling.  The roof is supported by wooden trusses under tin sheets.  The floor was half cement, half dirt.  By the end of the week, the floor will be complete.

Those working were a mix of clergy and laity, American and Liberian, black and white, skilled worker and unskilled laborer, man and woman, educated and uneducated, paid employee and volunteer.  What we held in common was much stronger than the things that could divide us.  And in that moment in the back of the church, what united us came out in song.

I was a part of a group made up of mostly newly ordained clergy, we had spent the last two weeks doing various projects in and around Liberia.  This was the last day of work.  We gathered to make sure we were all together before we walked down the hill to get in our van and head back to the United Methodist guesthouse in the city.  I’m not sure who started singing, but the singing started quietly.  It was a song we had learned from the Liberian people.

“I just want to say thank you, thank you my Lord…”

And then an amazing thing happened. Many of the Liberians that were still hard at work came over.  They put down their spades.  They put down their wheel barrows, and they joined us.  We took each other by the hand and formed a circle.  We were no longer Americans and Liberians.  We were no longer black and white.  We were simply God’s children.  We were one in Christ, and we sang.  We sang as loud as our lungs could muster.   I was already covered in sweat and cement dust.  Now tears were added to the mixture.  The pastor of New Hope United Methodist Church prayed.  We gave thanks to God for the cement floor, but also for so much more.

We thanked God for the relationship between the people of Liberia and the people of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.  We thanked God for the connection of the United Methodist Church.  We thanked God for the respect and friendship that was forged in our sweat.  We thanked God for hope.

The Fat Pastor working hard.

We broke the circle and it took us a few minutes to actually leave.  We shared hand shakes.  We shared hugs.  A few small tokens of appreciation were exchanged.  A few last pictures were taken.  There were many smiles, and then we got in the van and drove away.  None of us truly left.

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I’m scared

The music pounded out a beat.  The nine-piece band and two singers were really letting it go.  They sang of God’s goodness.  They sang of God’s providence, of God’s peace and God’s justice.  I stood there and allowed the music to envelope me.  I swayed a little, closed my eyes and prayed.  I tried to sing the words, but my voice faltered.  I gathered myself, tried to sing again, but nothing would come.

Tears came instead.  The music continued, and I could feel a great weight being lifted off of me.  I could feel myself letting go of so much tension.  Now the tears were flowing freely.  Still no words to sing, only a voice crying out, drowned out by the music and the singing – “I’m scared.”

A simple, two-word prayer.  Again, I cried, “I’m so scared.”  Now a three-word prayer, it was the limit of my ability to articulate what I was thinking and feeling. I reached over to grab my wife’s hand.  I squeezed it, held her close and said to her, “I’m so scared.”

It was a lamentation.  All I could do was cry out to God in lamentation.  I know God is with me.  I know that God is good.  I know that I can do all things through Christ.  I know that nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Yet in that moment the Holy Spirit was able to break into my heart and allowed me to simply lament.  Does it mean that I have any less faith?  I don’t think so.  It was a powerful and incredibly healing moment.

We’ll be spending most of our time in the capital city of Monrovia, building a school in the West Point section; and Ganta.

I’m scared.  I’m excited too, but in that moment all I could do was cry, “I’m scared.”  I’m scared of going to Liberia for two weeks.  I’m scared of 13 hours in a seat not designed for Fat Pastors.  I’m scared of leaving my girls.  I’m scared of missing their bedtime story.  I’m scared of missing their kisses.  I’m scared of mosquitoes and infected water.  I’m scared of sweltering heat.  I’m scared of fugitives and the desparately poor and the contagiously sick.  I’m scared of stories of evil and brutality for which my heart is not prepared.

I’m scared of moving to Moline a week after I get back from Liberia.  I’m scared of packing up all our junk.  I’m scared of getting it all done in time.  I’m scared of leaving Chenoa, my church, my friends.  I’m scared of leaving behind all that we have built.  I’m scared for ministries that might lose momentum.  I’m scared of not preaching every week.  I’m scared of not knowing every single person I worship with on Sunday.  I’m scared of getting lost – not just in a new city, but in the biggest church I’ve ever worked. I’m scared of starting from scratch.  Despite this fear, I believe.

I believe I’m going to have an amazing trip.  I believe I’m going to be transformed in ways I cannot even anticipate.  I believe I will hear stories of hope and redemption that will fill my heart with joy.  I believe I am going to build relationship with people that will last a lifetime.  I believe that when I get back to Chenoa we will pack up all our stuff on time. I believe that the church in Chenoa will go on strong without me.  I believe that the leadership will not lose sight of their mission.  I believe that there are tremendous people, opportunities and resources in Moline that will allign well with my talents and passion.  I believe that together we will do great work for Kingdom of God.  I believe these things, and yet I’m scared.

I sit here and feel both strong and scared at the same time. It is okay for me to be both excited and terrified.  It is right, and a good and joyful thing for me to wipe away tears one moment, and then smile wide the next.  I’m excited.  It doesn’t make me love my family or the people of Chenoa any less.  I’m sad.  That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy Liberia or Moline.

I’m scared.  It doesn’t make me any less of a  man.  It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God.  It doesn’t make me a worse pastor.  It just means that I’m human.  I’m scared, but I move on.  I move on with my family.  I move on with God.  I move on straight into my fear, and that is all that matters.

If you would like to donate to my trip to Liberia, all the money I collect between now and Saturday will be taken as cash and given DIRECTLY to churches and hosts.  Please click here to be taken to the donation page.

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The Longest Night

On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”

Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.

The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.

My mother died at this time of the year.  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.

For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband.  He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents.  He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.

The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.

The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.

Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposd to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?

Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen everyday that God did not plan. I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.

The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.

Liturgy for a worship service “For those that mourn at Christmas”

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Memorial Day Liturgy

Call to Worship

One:   Let us begin our time of worship with a moment of remembrance.

All:     We remember fallen soldiers, and the sacrifice they made for the sake of others.

One:   Let us begin our time of worship with a moment of thanksgiving.

All: We thank God for brave men and women that have given their lives so that we may worship without fear.

One: Let us begin our time of worship with a moment of silence; for a moment is the least we can do for those that gave their eternity.

Hymn  “God of All the Nations”

Confession

All:     God of every nation, as we remember those that gave their life for our sake, let us be stirred to action in their memory. We confess that we have not done all that is possible to promote peace and justice in our world.  We have not loved our neighbors, let alone our enemies.  Forgive us for failing to live up to your commandments. Empower us to work for your Kingdom in this world, and welcome us by your grace into your Kingdom in the next.  Amen.

Click here to see a Veteran’s Day Litany, which can be appropriate for Memorial Day as well.

Click here to read another reflection about Memorial Day and our struggle for peace.

Click here to read a reflection after doing a funeral at the Rock Island National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend

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Veterans’ Day

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection

Thankful For Veterans. Praying for peace.

Litany for Veterans

One: God of love, peace and justice, it is your will for the world that we may live together in peace. You have promised through the prophet Isaiah that one day the swords will be beaten into ploughshares. Yet we live in a broken world, and there are times that war seems inevitable. Let us recognize with humility and sadness the tragic loss of life that comes in war. Even so, as we gather here free from persecution, we may give thanks for those that have served with courage and honor.

Please Rise: Those that are in our presence that are either in active duty or reserve duty, and the fathers, mothers, siblings, spouses and grandparents of those that are currently serving.

All: God, we praise you for those that are willing to serve. Let all Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen serve with honor, pride, and compassion. Do not let their hearts be hardened by the actions they must take. Strengthen their families. Keep them surrounded in your love and peace.

Please Rise: Those that are in our presence that have served in the military in the past.

All: God, we praise you for those that have served in the military. We thank you for those that put the welfare of others ahead of their own safety. Let us all be inspired by their self-sacrifice in service to those who needed protection.

Please Rise: Those that are in our presence who have lost a loved one in war.

All: God, we praise you for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. We ask that you comfort those that still feel the pain of their loss. Keep us mindful that you have promised to comfort those that mourn.

Please Rise: Those who have gathered in your name in safety because of the sacrifices of others.

All: God, we praise you for granting us these freedoms. Let us honor those who have served by working for peace. Let us never forget those that have served, and let us never let go of your promise of peace.

I also wrote this short Memorial Day liturgy.

A reflection for Memorial Day. Sometimes “Thank you” seems inadequate.

This litany was written by Robb McCoy. It is free to print or display for use in worship. Please attribute: “Permission to publish is granted by Robb McCoy, http://fatpastor.me.”  If you use this in worship, I would love for you to let me know in the comments.

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More response to Jill and Kevin

I want to cut and paste the responses I got to this post on facebook. Some very thoughtful pastors had very interesting things to say.

I want to be clear that my previous post was not intended to be directed at Jill and Kevin. I don’t know Jill and Kevin. I did not see the rest of the service. Perhaps the pastor preached about the joyful dance that was meant to honor God. Perhaps they are devoted Christians, who instead of going on a honeymoon, went to Liberia to build a school. Perhaps they are egotistical jerks that are lapping up their new-found fame.  Perhaps they are somewhere in between.  I have no idea. Is this ceremony in any way indicative of the long-term success of their marriage? Not any more than any service is.

Every wedding is nearly meaningless to the marriage. A marriage is about deciding everyday to love, honor, care for and respect your spouse. There is no way to tell from any wedding ceremony if those two people will honor their vows in their heart. What I can say is this – the divorce rate for marriages that are lived in God, that are drenched in sincere prayer and heart-felt worship, with self-sacrifice, respect, love, honor, and faithfulness (and faithfulness is about a lot more than who one has sex with), is zero percent.

My post was about me thinking about what I would do if someone approached me with this idea. My response would depend on the couple and the situation.
My post was about the “look-at-me” attitude that pervades our culture – where fame is valued over humility and material gain is valued over sacrifice. Is this an example of it? Not in and of itself, but the response by the media, the recreations of it on morning shows, and the imitations of it that are sure to come, give me pause.

There is so much that I love about this video – I wish there was more of this kind of thing in church. Part of why it is so shocking is that people are dancing and having a good time in a sanctuary – which is sad. I can imagine how cool it would be if every Sunday morning the elements for Communion, the Bible, the liturgist, pastor, ushers, and other participants came into the sanctuary like this?

I could imagine how cool it would be if the offering were more like this? What if people came to bring their offering in song and dance instead of sitting like they were at a funeral – Or what about a funeral for that matter? I hope that when I die people can dance like this, not cause they’re happy I’m gone, but to celebrate a life well lived. I’m actually getting tears as I type this because I pray with all of my heart that more people could experience worship with this kind of joy.

So Kelly, please don’t think that I am judging anyone in this video. You think that God was smiling on them – I think you’re right. I think God celebrates with us during good times, and weeps with us during hard times, especially if we invite God to do so.

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